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Singapore’s reopening commitment faces test in new clusters

·2-min read
Office workers wearing masks cross a street during lunch hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore May 12, 2021.   REUTERS/Dawn Chua
A jump in Covid cases to more than 100 a day poses a potential test of resolve for Singapore officials. (PHOTO: REUTERS/Dawn Chua)

By Joanna Ossinger

(Bloomberg) — A jump in Covid cases to more than 100 a day poses a potential test of resolve for Singapore officials who are counting on one of the world’s best vaccination rates to allow them to stay the course and keep reopening.

A cluster at Bugis Junction, a local shopping mall, added 40 new cases on Thursday, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health. A total of 38 new cases were reported a day earlier, with most of them being linked to multi-story department store BHG, which was closed through Aug. 30 for deep cleaning. The government is encouraging anyone who went to the mall since Aug. 17 to get a free Covid test.

Singapore defended its decision not to close its schools earlier as the Southeast Asian country goes into a partial lockdown from today to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Once seen as a vanguard of the “Covid-zero” elimination strategy, Singapore says it’s preparing to transition to reopening with the assumption the virus will be endemic, while keeping social distancing safeguards and encouraging mass vaccination to limit community spread. The city-state is nearing 80% of its total population who have completed the full regimen of vaccines, a benchmark leaders have set for additional easing.

Previous rapid-growth clusters have set back Singapore’s ambitions before, like in July when clusters centred around karaoke lounges and the Jurong Fishery Port sprang up. Along with the Bugis Junction cluster, which now stands at 61 cases, another at a migrant worker dormitory has infected more than 110 people.

The difference now is vaccinations.

When the karaoke and port clusters emerged last month, Singapore had less than half of the population fully vaccinated. Now that number is at 78%, according to government data. That’s the highest in the world for any country with more than five million people, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

A critical focus: the elderly, who are seen as most at risk of hospitalisation or death from Covid. Whereas last month, Singapore was trying to cajole reluctant seniors into getting their jabs, now some 87% of those aged 70 and above have had at least one dose. Every other eligible age bracket is at or above 90%.

(Updates with latest health ministry’s virus counts in second paragraph.)

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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